Features: 65 / 100
Look/Design: 70 / 100
Performance: 70 / 100
Safety: 85 / 100
In recent months, there’s been quite a lot of activity at Suzuki’s South African offices. Not only has the brand expanded their range of offerings after establishing good sales within the market, but the company is the second fastest growing brand in the industry in 2015. At the same time, while the South African market tends to soften as the result of the slowing economy, Suzuki bucked the trend by continuing to grow its sales throughout 2014 and 2015. The coupling of an affordable and wider range of products has made Suzuki quite an appealing choice for motorists, and with the introduction of the Suzuki Vitara to the market in December 2015, provides even more options for prospective buyers.
A quick look back at the history of Suzuki and you’ll notice quite a wide range of vehicles throughout its 107 years existence, with their first automobile developed in the late 1930s. In fact, the original Vitara was one of the earliest compact SUVs to be released in the late 1980s, building a reputation for itself from its reliability and sales volumes during that time. This, the fourth generation of the Vitara, is seen as a reboot of the name, which offers a mix of front-wheel and four-wheel drive options in a very competitive market. We recently received the Vitara GL+ 1.6 (2016) for review, to see how it compares to the likes of the Mazda CX-3, Honda HR-V, Ford Ecosport, Peugeot 2008, Renault Captur, Nissan Juke, and Kia Soul.
Build and Design
There’s no doubting that Suzuki has placed more emphasis on the brand of late, especially when it comes to the design of the new vehicles. Although some inspiration may have been drawn from multiple sources in the case of the Vitara, it blends a range of ideas together for something quite alluring. But first, let’s take a quick look at the interior.
The Vitara’s cabin differs somewhat from the approach in many of Suzuki’s other offerings. While the finish is still predominantly plastic, the configuration is a lot more eye-catching. Many of the inserts are rounded, given it more natural and symmetrical aesthetics. The leather steering wheel includes your modern shortcuts in the form of audio controls, cruise control and speed limiter, and hands-free phone controls for the in-car, Bluetooth system. The information display includes a digital clock, outside temperature gauge, fuel consumption gauge, average speed and driving range, gear indicator and eco shift indicator, and driving mode indicator, which may be toggled between 4 different displays. The default indicators include the seatbelt reminders for all seats, open door reminder and low fuel warnings.
The new look is a step in the right direction for the company, but I can’t shake off the overall plastic finish within the cabin. The only break from the plastic is the leather on the steering wheel. While it may be understandable from a cost saving perspective, I’m sure there wouldn’t be too much complaining for a more colourful, slightly less plastic approach to the interior, even at the expense of a few more Rands. As for the speaker system, I was relatively satisfied with the quality and normal volumes, through a wide variety of music genres and equiliser settings. Turning the volume up, however, reveals a more hollow sounds, mostly due to the poor bass quality.
If you’d prefer, there are quite a few options that aren’t fitted to the GL+ model, such luxuries such as a more modern, 7″ touchscreen, a GPS (or SAT-NAV) system, and even parking assistance with rear camera. At an additional cost of R30,000 you may still be second guessing whether those features are truly necessary, but with the addition of the panoramic sunroof and chrome finishes (both internal and external), it may not be such a hard sell after all.
On the plus side, the Vitara offers quite a lot of boot space. In fact, there’s plenty of space throughout the cabin, from the front to the rear. The doors have large pockets, with sufficiently large cupholders placed throughout, a two-tiered cubby in the middle, an average cubbyhole on the left, and plenty of head and legroom, even on the rear seats. The rear does suffer a bit with a lack of rear vents, or cupholders. The 60:40 rear seats fold away to extend the 375 litre cargo space to an impressive 710 litres. While the seats don’t fold away quite flat, it is still very useful for hauling additional equipment in the boot, which also has a false bottom for even larger equipment.
While the interior may deliver a mixed bag of emotions, there are no such shortcomings when it comes to the design of the exterior. It’s clear that Suzuki want to make an impression on the potential buyer, offering a number of different base colour choices, along with four additional options for the roof (with or without panoramic sunroof options). The two-tone colour scheme makes quite a difference in the overall look, the black roof option reminiscent of the panoramic sunroof even without having fitted that option. While the default package offers options of colour, there are two additional choices if you’re looking for something a lot more stylised. The Urban Package includes chrome trimmings and bezels, bolder body mouldings and a rear spoiler, whereas the Rugged Package includes front and rear scuff plates, new body mouldings and load-bay protection.
The Vitara draws many similarities to its sibling, the S-Cross (the Nissan Qashqai competitor), but looks a lot more refined, and, at the same time, sporty. Most of its design, however, are inspired by the Range Rover Evoque, a miniature version if you like, with other design elements are drawn from the likes of Audi for the alloy rims, and even the less attractive GWM M4, for example. But, the end result is something quite sporty, compact, and very lightweight. At just over 1,100KG (kerb weight), the Vitara is nimble in comparison to many other compact SUVs out there.
The GL+ sports 16″ alloy wheels (215/60R16), with a ground clearance of 185mm. The front-wheel drive may not be able to match it’s four-wheel drive siblings, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a little something in the form of offroading. The ride height makes it easy to mount a pavement, or other offroad obstacles, while the soft suspension makes for a smoother gravel drive than most other vehicles. Having tested out its capabilities, I’m glad to report that my offroad adventures didn’t leave me disappointed. In fact, after the first test run, I sought almost all opportunities to take the road less travelled, even a shortcut of two that I wouldn’t have even noticed driving my sedan.
Engine and Performance
The Vitara GL+ sports a 1.6-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine, which has 86kW at 6000rpm and 156Nm of torque available at 4400rpm. On the face of it, the engine specifications won’t set the world alight, but it is surprisingly punchy off the line. Unlike many other SUVs, and even compact SUVs, Suzuki has opted against fitting a turbo to the Vitara for the South African market. There are, however, a few other regions where a turbo is available. The Vitara GL+ is deceptively agile thanks to many of the exterior design elements. This feeling is delivered right through to the electric steering wheel, and a lightweight body that shows an ease and willingness to take corners. This sentiment continues with rapid direction changes, will little to no feel of bodyroll. This, thanks to the light body and lower height.
As stated previously, the Vitara GL+ is quick off the line, despite it’s low-powered 1.6-litre engine. The five-speed manual gearbox has been tuned mainly for economy, although the first and second gears pack enough oomph at the lower end, allowing the driver not to be overly concerned about the higher gears. I noticed a drop in power between the second and third gears at lower RPM, but thanks to some adjustment in my driving style, as well as the computer adjusting to my style as well, this change became negligible within a week of testing. And that’s what I love about the Vitara, despite a few shortcomings, you’re able to adjust within a short time to fully enjoy what is available in terms of power output.
With the smaller engine, there are also some benefits for daily driving, the most notable being the fuel economy. During the course of the week of testing, city driving yielded roughly 5.8L per 100km, which was even more impressive given the few moments of hard driving as part of the overall testing. The information panel displays best practices for gear changes to achieve optimum results, and sticking to this could produce an economy closer to 5.5L per 100km. This doesn’t always translate to all driving conditions, as you’ll no doubt notice some additional effort required to climb steep hills, even while driving on the freeway in excess of 100km/h. While I enjoyed the punchy 1.6L engine, it is surprising that Suzuki haven’t opted to produce larger, higher powered engines, as the chassis would easily be able to cope with the extra oomph.
Reliability and Safety
On the face of it, you may not assume much of Suzuki’s safety focus on the Vitara, but what lies beneath may surprise you. The compact SUV has managed to attain class-leading status in terms of its safety specifications, with front, side, and curtain airbags fitted. That’s a total of seven airbags throughout, fitted to all models of the Vitara. Moreover, all models also include electronic stability control, ABS with EBD and braking assist. The Vitara achieved five-star rating in the EuroNCAP 2015 tests, with safety scores of 89% and 85% for Adult Occupant and Child Occupant safety, respectively. Pedestrian safety also scored an impressive 76%.
It wouldn’t be worth much if these numbers were all on paper, and with that, I put some the safety features to the test, without being involved in an accident that is. The ABS brakes are impressive, and surprisingly good for the compact SUV. Handling and braking was also impressive in wet conditions. I was surprised by the mid-winter thunderstorms experienced in Gauteng two weeks ago, but instead of shying away from the rains as most people often do, I took the opportunity to conduct a few tests in a secluded area. The Vitara impressed yet again, as I always felt in control. The Vitara also has daytime running lights in the form of the fog lights, which turn off when the headlights are turned on, but can also be turned back on to provide extra lighting in certain locations. Safety and reliability, then, is something that Suzuki has definitely stepped up with the Vitara.
Warranty and Servicing
The specific Suzuki Vitara GL+ used during the review period has a cost of R273 000 and is sold with a 3-year/100 000km warranty and a 4-year/60 000km service plan with intervals of 15 000km between services.
The Suzuki Vitara GL+ is a well-equipped compact SUV. While the interior leaves a lot to be desired with its all-plastic finish (apart from the leather-trimmed, multifunction steering wheel), it does offer some modern luxuries in the form of a good audio system with a built-in in-car system, electric windows, auto climate controlled aircon, cruise control, and speed limits. There are a few extras that would make the interior more appealing, but these are more in the line with nice-to-haves than critical. These includes extras such as automatic lights and wipers, reverse camera, and roof rails. When you look at the price, these omissions are somewhat understandable.
Engine performance is generally good as well, although it may take some getting used to at the start. The 1.6L engine is geared toward economy and does exactly that at sub-6L per 100km. While many other manufacturers have opted for smaller engines fitted with turbochargers to provide a balance between power and economy, the natural aspiration engine on the Vitara does a good enough job without it. The Vitara also delivers exceptionally smooth ride, even when taken off-road, despite the two-wheel, front-wheel drive.
The Vitara GL+ is built for the long term, something that buyers should always be aware of. Factoring in the reliability and service, and the Vitara looks like a really good deal especially with their sub-R300 000 range. When you consider Suzuki’s good resale value as well, there are quite a number of factors to sway your decision. The Suzuki Vitara delivers an impressive all-round package, and is well worth your consideration in the compact SUV class.
Video shot and edited by: Lwando Kelembe of Afro Collective.